Harold A. Katz(1921-2012)
Few people are able to include public service in all three branches of government in their résumés. Fewer still can lay claim to having spawned a new legal concept that has saves countless lives. Harold A. Katz accomplished all of these items. He was a founding partner of the law firm along with Irving Friedman nearly 60 years ago. Harold and Irving met when they were opposing counsel on a labor relations case in the early 1950’s. Harold was representing the United Auto Workers. Irv, as the Labor Board’s senior trial attorney in its Chicago office, was representing the National Labor Relations Review Board. The two joined forces to successfully prosecute an unfair labor practice complaint against a multi-national corporation. It didn’t take long for their mutual respect to become a working arrangement that translated into more than a half-century partnership to fight economic injustice.
Harold came from a modest background in Shelbyville, Tennessee. He commuted to Vanderbilt University (B.A., economics 1943) in Nashville, where he was a chess champion and wrote for the school newspaper. While at Vanderbilt, Harold was an ardent civil rights supporter during a time when the civil rights movement faced vehement opposition. During a summer college program at Campobello Island, Canada, he met and was inspired by the first-lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. During World War II, Harold worked for the War Labor Board in Chicago where he met and married Ethel Mae Lewison. They were married for 65 years. Harold attended the University of Chicago (J.D., 1948; M.A. economics, 1958), where he began a friendship and collaboration with Professor Charles Gregory; together they wrote Labor Law: Cases, Materials, Comments (1948) and a follow-up volume Labor and the Law (3rd edition, 1979).
In 1956, Harold authored an article in the Harvard Law Review, stating that
“Nothing in law or logic insulates manufacturers from liability for deficiencies in design any more than for defects in construction.”
That assertion, backed by meticulous research and analysis in the article, became the basis for adoption in many states, including Illinois, of the so-called "crashworthiness doctrine" – that manufacturers have an obligation to market automobiles that are reasonably designed to protect occupants in the event of a car crash. The concept that automobile manufacturers should be legally liable for injuries resulting from dangerous car design is said to have influenced policy makers in this area, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Mr. Nader was a second year law student at Harvard at the time the article appeared, and of course he later played a critical role in the passage of federal legislation that imposed far-reaching design changes on auto manufacturers. In 1966, the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Nader saying “If anybody is responsible for Ralph Nader, Harold Katz must take a major share of the responsibility.”
Harold was a lecturer at numerous conferences and institutes on labor and employment discrimination subjects. He acted as chairperson for a number of organizations including the U.S. branch of the International Society for Labor Law and Social Legislation, the Labor Law Committee of the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Workers’ Compensation Section of the American Trial Lawyers’ Association. He was elected a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. In 2001, Harold was one of only 12 Illinois lawyers inducted as a Laureate in the Illinois Academy of Lawyers; he earned the Jurisprudence Award from American Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT), and the Freedom of Expression Award from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He was listed in the 2009 edition of The Best Lawyers in America.
Harold was a public servant in every branch of government outside of his private law practice. Active in Democratic politics, Harold was elected to the Illinois State Legislature representing New Trier Township in 1964, and was re-elected eight times; he retired from the Legislature in 1984 after serving 18 years as a consistent voice for progressive reform. His legislative accomplishments included leadership on the Commission on the Organization of the General Assembly (COOGA), budgetary reform, introduction of legal requirements for handicap accessibility, and pioneering bicycle paths. Harold served as special counsel to the Governor of Illinois on legislation; and was a Master-in-Chancery at the trial court level in Cook County.
It is with great sadness that Harold passed away shortly before the firm that he founded and mentored was named by the prestigious U.S. News & World Report as Best Law Firm in the U.S. 2013, Labor Law-Union. Since his passing, his firm has continually been named by U.S. News & World Report as Best Law Firm in the U.S., Labor Law. Additionally, the firm has been named by U.S. News & World Report as Best Law Firm in the U.S., Workers Compensation.
J.D., University of Chicago, 1948
B.A., Vanerbilt University, 1943
M.A., Chicago University, 1958